Republicans prepare to leave Washington without resolving health care disputes

"I'm surprised we've been this incompetent," Rep. Steve Chabot said.

April 5, 2017, 7:54 PM

— -- After days of internal negotiations with the White House about how to revive their Obamacare repeal and replacement plan, House Republicans are on track to leave Washington tomorrow for two weeks without resolving the major issues holding up a vote on the bill.

The lack of progress frustrated some Republicans nearly two weeks after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, was forced to pull the American Health Care Act from the House floor -- a major setback for President Trump and Republicans in Congress.

"This is the gang that can't shoot straight," Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, told ABC News as he left a GOP meeting on the latest health care discussions Wednesday afternoon. "I'm surprised we've been this incompetent."

The conference is still working through disagreements about how to handle some of Obamacare's regulations -- a major sticking point that emerged after the bill's dramatic collapse.

Over the weekend, the White House first proposed allowing states to opt out of some Obamacare regulations, including a rule requiring health insurers to cover, at minimum, a group of "essential" health benefits and another known as the community ratings mandate that prevents insurers from setting premiums at different levels for older or younger Americans.

Letting states waive the community ratings mandate would effectively undermine the Affordable Care Act's popular rule preventing insurers from denying coverage because pre-existing conditions, something Trump promised to keep in a GOP Obamacare replacement.

Over the course of the week, Republican moderates voiced opposition to the proposed changes to the community ratings mandate, which GOP chief deputy whip Patrick McHenry, R-North Carolina, called a "bridge to far" for some Republicans.

Vice President Mike Pence tried bringing Republicans together in several meetings on Capitol Hill this week, though leadership didn't win any new votes as of Wednesday.

"Right now the offerings have diminished votes, not increased them," said McHenry, one of the GOP's top vote-counters. "It is a wide math problem when you make significant changes to the bill."

Republican caucus leaders postponed another meeting with Pence set for Wednesday evening, leaving negotiators in a holding pattern as members return home for the Easter recess.

Members need a "cooling off period" over the break, McHenry said.

"You need people to stop, take a deep breath and think through the way to yes," he said, adding that it will be a problem for members to return home without updated legislative text.

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows, R-North Carolina, told reporters last night after the meeting with Pence and other White House officials that members of his caucus -- who banded together to help kill the bill initially -- won't take a position on the updated measure without reviewing new legislative text, which is being drafted by the White House in conjunction with staff on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

House offices received notice Wednesday evening that the House will hold its last votes around 11 a.m. Thursday morning before leaving for two weeks.

When lawmakers return to Washington, they'll have to resolve government funding - which expires on April 28 - in addition to health care.

"I don't know that it's gets easier, I don't know if it gets more difficult," Meadows said of addressing health care later this month. "Really right now, it's important that we get it done."

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